How to Trim a Lemon Tree

How To Prune A Lemon Tree

Out of all of the fruit trees, the lemon tree is one of the simplest to care for. As long as you address its basic needs, the tree will grow and continue to provide you with delicious, citrusy fruit for years. One of the most important elements of maintenance is trimming the tree so that it is able to generate new growth and is no longer encumbered by dead, dying, or diseased branches. But the question is, how to prune a lemon tree? How do you identify a disease? And when is the best time to prune? Check out this simple how-to guide for more information.

How To Prune A Lemon Tree: What You Will Need

The exact tools required to prune your lemon tree will depend on its age and size. In general, it is recommended that gardeners avoid using saws and instead use hand pruners when working with young trees that have thin branches. If you are planning on doing more in-depth pruning on an older tree, then you should invest in a hand saw. Remember to have some disinfecting alcohol as well, to help prevent the transfer of potential disease or pests.

In short, you should have the following items when trimming:

How To Prune A Lemon Tree: What You Will Need

How to Prune a Lemon Tree Tutorial

Deciduous fruit trees should be trimmed and pruned on a regular basis to foster healthy branch growth and provide more light and air to the fruit. It is a great way to start growing larger lemons but does require some work since citrus branches tend to be hardy and strong. If you adhere to the following steps, you can trim your lemon tree with no problem.

  • Choose the Right Time to Prune: When to Prune Lemon Trees

Inexperienced gardeners have a tendency to become overzealous about their pruning activities, but there is an ideal time to start trimming branches. For lemon trees, it’s best to leave the plant alone until after the fall harvest, when crop yield won’t be affected. Choosing to prune in the fall – or in the winter in hotter climates – gives the tree time to rest before it starts to generate more lemons in the following season.

  • Prepare Your Tools

Once you have scheduled an ideal time for pruning, ready your shears, lopper, or handsaw. It’s important to rinse the blades with a form of disinfectant to stop the spread of disease or mold spores between plants. Remember to allow the blades to dry before you start pruning, as your tree won’t appreciate the alcohol. You can also disinfect the tools using a 10% bleach solution if you prefer to avoid isopropyl alcohol or a similar liquid. 

How to Prune a Lemon Tree Tutorial

  • Identify Where You Want to Trim

When pruning a lemon tree, you want to eliminate unnecessary branches that are stifling the light and aeration of the citrus harvest. Focus on thinner branches at first, and then work your way up to the bigger ones. If there are any signs of disease or damage, remove these growths to stop the spread of problematic bacteria or mold.

There are several parts of the branch that you want to cut to promote healthy growth. In general, it is a good idea to remove root suckers, broken branches, water shoots, and any branches that rub against or cross one another. These are unnecessary and could be impeding future growth, making them essential elements to eliminate. 

  • Start Pruning

You need to trim your lemon tree a certain way to avoid wounding the sensitive bark. Never cut flush to the trunk, and always make incisions with the blade pointed toward the tree. To start trimming, begin with angled cuts that are 10-12 in. away from the central trunk. Eliminate smaller branches before working your way up to big ones. You want to cut so the branch collar is preserved, as this “branch defense zone” will help the tree recover from pruning and grow a hard protective coating over freshly trimmed areas.

  • Use the Three Cut System

The best way to trim a lemon tree is by using a system that relies on three different types of cuts to remove branches while keeping the plant healthy. The first cut for larger branches is the same as the pruning system for smaller ones, which is to begin with angled cuts around 10-12 in. away from the trunk. You follow this with an undercut on the other side of the branch to weaken it and help remove it from the tree. Afterward, move a few inches above the branch and slice above, severing it from the tree.


  • Continue Until Satisfied

The exact number of branches you trim will depend on your personal preference and the overall health of the tree. Professional gardeners recommend removing no more than a third of growth, as taking too many branches can stunt the next year’s lemon harvest and leave you without any citrus for your recipes. 

  • Adjust for Cuttings

If you are trimming the lemon tree in the hope of getting cuttings for propagation, select only healthy branches that are between half an inch and a full inch thick. Avoid choosing ones that are too thick or seem unhealthy, as they will not grow when transplanted into new soil and can dry out and die rapidly.

How To Prune A Lemon Tree: Tips and Tricks

There aren’t many tips and tricks to cutting citrus trees as the process is quite straightforward. However, if you have never pruned a lemon tree before, consider doing regular maintenance throughout the year to reduce how much work you have at the end of the fall season. Always remember to remove dead growth whenever possible, and remember to top new trees so the fruit receives enough sunlight to remain healthy and strong. 


Trimming a lemon tree does not need to be a complicated process. Although some of the terms sound complex, all you need to do is eliminate unnecessary growth and provide space for the lemons to receive the right amount of sunlight and oxygen. If you are still not satisfied with your results in the upcoming year, consider trimming a little more and checking on the health of the tree.